THE SIGN OF JONAH by Boeli van Leeuwen


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The fifth novel but first US publication for noted Dutch Caribbean novelist van Leeuwen--a modernist fable of faith and affirmation in a vividly rendered setting. Seamlessly mixing metafiction, magical realism, and literary allusion, van Leeuwen describes the moral and metaphysical challenges that his aging narrator faces as he seeks some assurances of immortality. The old man, a former lawyer and civil servant turned writer who's living in Willemstad on the Dutch island of Curacao--a r‚sum‚ that closely parallels van Leeuwen's own--is experiencing terrible dreams about the ""pale horse"" ridden by Death in the Book of Revelations. He's seen it at various times since childhood, but now realizes he can no longer escape Death as he did as a younger man in WW II. These portent-filled dreams also warn of imminent global destruction, nuclear catastrophe, and widespread warfare--dreams that he tries to escape by staying up late and socializing with the local low-life. But while the old man sympathizes with the prostitutes, drunks, and petty criminals he encounters, they have no answers to the questions that trouble him. When he saves a visiting South American plutocrat's life, however, he unwittingly begins the extraordinary odyssey that, suffused with whaling lore and legend--the whales are seen as divine emissaries--will end in revelation and hope. The man he saves, Juan Carlos, insists that the narrator accompany him and his enigmatic mistress, Laila, on his homeward voyage. Once in Carlos's native Balboa, a menacingly suggestive place, he visits Carlos's human zoo in the jungle where idiosyncratic saints and sinners survive in isolation; resists Laila's attempts to seduce him; and eventually sails back home, where a riotous celebration leads to a humiliating night in jail. But this dark night of the soul ends with an affirming dream that assures him of eternity's existence. A deceptively small book packed with big thoughts and big questions, all for the most part refreshingly accessible.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1579621457
Page count: 203pp
Publisher: Permanent